Having a good air rifle is a must for anyone planning to live off the land. They’re quiet, low maintenance, and the ammo is abundant and cheap. It’s a great weapon for for taking down small game like rabbits and squirrels, and is an affordable way to teach kids marksmanship and gun safety before moving up to a real firearm. But they certainly can’t replace a real gun, can they?
There are some very powerful air guns on the market today that are capable of taking down larger game like coyotes and deer. But, you have to get much closer to the animal, and there is little room for error when it comes to shot placement. I don’t think anyone would “prefer” an airgun over a firearm in that situation. It has its place among other hunting rifles, but is certainly no substitute.
That is, unless you consider the 18th century Girandoni Air Rifle (sometimes spelled Girardoni). What is now a rare and little known weapon was once one of the most devastating weapons on the battlefields of Europe. It saw service in the Austrian Army between 1780 and 1815, and saw action during the Austro-Turkish war. Despite being a potential game changer, it eventually fell out of favor due to its high manufacturing cost, and its somewhat delicate parts (it was too fragile for the rigors of a bayonet fight). Filling the air reservoir was also quite a chore. The large tank that also doubled as the stock, had to be filled with a hand operated pump, and it required a daunting 1500 strokes to top off. Despite these issues, it was still one of the most advanced weapons during that time period.
You may be wondering why the gun needed such a large air reservoir. That’s because the Girandoni was one of the first repeating rifles. The tank held enough air to propel 30 shots, and the gravity fed magazine could hold up to 22 rounds. A simple lever was used to chamber each .46 caliber round, and a soldier could fire and reload every 5-10 seconds.
Each soldier carried 3 tanks that took 20-30 minutes to pump up, and several speed loaders to rapidly reload the magazine. It was reportedly accurate from 100 to 150 yards, and depending on how full the air reservoir was, it could puncture a 1 inch pine board at the same distance. And since no gunpowder was required, soldiers had the added advantage of concealment. There was no loud explosion, no bright flash, and no cloud of smoke to reveal your position.
A few of these rifles were shipped abroad, and one of them made history when it found its way into the hands of Lewis and Clark. Their journals spoke favorably of the weapon, and it was demonstrated before every native tribe they came across. In fact, the Girandoni may have been the reason they were never attacked by the natives throughout their journey. Showing the weapon’s lethality, range, and rapid fire capabilities was an effective intimidation tactic that helped keep them from being ambushed.
For modern preppers though, what makes the gun so attractive is its sustainability. Think of everything that goes into the making of a modern day bullet. The copper jacket, the lead, the gunpowder, the primer etc. While you can learn how to reload bullets, ultimately you have to rely on civilization at some point to restock your supplies. With the Girandoni, all you need is lead, a fire and a cast. And since there is no gunpowder involved, the gun is going to be very easy to clean.
It’s the most logistically simple firearm ever made. If you had to endure a long term survival situation, an airgun like this would keep shooting long after you ran out of ammunition for your other firearms. And with modern manufacturing processes, the gun could probably be built with a more robust design, and with longer lasting parts. Modern rifling could also make it far more accurate than its predecessor, and turning it into a semi-auto firearm would certainly be feasible. Making the magazine spring loaded would also be an easy fix.
While several replicas of the Girandoni have been made in recent years, it’s never been mass produced, and no modern air rifles have been able to perfectly match it. There are, however, several guns out there that have matched its lethality. They’re referred to as “big bore” airguns, and are capable of taking down very large animals. But so far none that I have seen have had the same ammunition capacity. Being able to put so many rounds down range so quickly would give you a fighting chance against anyone with a modern firearm, should the situation arise.
Hopefully, someone out there is thinking of bringing this gun back, or at least a modern day approximation. When they do, sign me up for the first model. I wouldn’t want to leave civilization without it.